Monday, March 1, 2021

Read-at-Home Mom Report: February 2021 Wrap-Up

 My Month in Books

In February, I read 13 books, bringing me to 30 for the year so far. Here's the full list: 

Affairs of Steak
by Julie Hyzy (4 stars)
This is book 5 in the White House Chef Mystery series, which was one of the first cozy mystery series I started reading a few years ago. I took a break from it for a while, but decided to read one this month for the #fedbybooks challenge on Instagram.  

Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles by Raymond Arroyo (5 stars)
[reviewed on Instagram]
This was my book club book for this month. I listened to the audiobook read by the author, and it was very well done. I enjoyed learning more about an amazing Catholic woman and about the creation of EWTN even in the face of objections from clergy.

The Diva Steals a Chocolate Kiss by Krista Davis (2 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
This was another one I picked up with the #fedbybooks challenge in mind. I owned the paperback, but listened to the audio. I didn't really like it and I have decided not to read more from the series for right now.

Treasures: Visible & Invisible by (5 stars)
[reviewed on the blog]
I received a .PDF review copy of this book from one of the authors, and I just absolutely loved it. If you or your teens need something to read to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, this is a great choice.

Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly (3 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
This is book 2 in the Renee Ballard series. It wasn't as good as book one, but I enjoyed it and will be reading book 3. 

Killer Kung Pao by Vivien Chien (4 stars)
[reviewed on Instagram]
One more #fedbybooks read. This is book 6 in the Noodle Shop Mystery series. This series is still going strong, and I'm excited for the next one. 

Romance Is My Day Job: A Memoir of Finding Love at Last by Patience Bloom (3 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
I read this one around Valentine's Day. Though I have nothing in common with the author, and would not have made any of the life choices she made, I really enjoyed listening to her read the story on the audiobook.  

Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson (2 stars)
[review coming soon on blog]
I read this aloud to my kids, who loved it. I felt like it went on forever and I have mixed feelings about some of the content. I am working on a full review to be published soon. 

How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster (2 stars)
[reviewed on the blog]
I read this book as part of my continuing quest to understand why majoring English was such a terrible experience for me. I'm pretty sure I've figured it out now: reading literature like a professor is something I never ever want to do. My review goes into greater detail as to why. 

Stay With Me by Carolyn Astfalk (4 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
After enjoying Treasures and realizing how many wonderful Catholic authors I haven't been reading, I decided to seek out the novels of some of the authors. I started with contemporary romance because that is one of my favorite genres, and I absolutely loved this book. I was so invested in the characters, and I loved the way Catholic teaching about chastity was woven into the story in a very realistic and non-preachy way.  

Be Bold in the Broken by Mary Lenaburg (3 stars)
[reviewed on Instagram]
Mary is such an inspiring presence in the Catholic corner of the Internet. I love what this book has to say about the worthiness of all women in the eyes of God. 

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J.B. West  (5 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
I read this with the Everyday Reading book club on Instagram, and learned so much about life in the White House in the mid 20th century. I especially loved that this took a human interest, rather than a political, angle. 

The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien (5 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
This was a re-read for me. It's still great. Gollum is still so intriguing, and Shelob is still terrifying. I've never read to the end of Return of the King, so I'm looking forward to finally doing that during this next month. 

The Best of the Bunch

Surprisingly, neither of my favorites were books I had initially planned to read this month, but both were clear five-star reads. 

As for the rest of the family's reading...

My husband finished reading Zeb by Lonzo Anderson, a middle grade novel by the husband of illustrator Adrienne Adams. He gave it three stars. 

M., age 7, read a few titles in the Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald Sobol, which inspired a lot of wandering through the house speaking in a faux British accent about "the culprits." She also started reading aloud White Stallion of Lipizza by Marguerite Henry to my mother-in-law over Skype.

C., age 5, has been on a nonfiction kick with books from the '60s by Leonora Hornblow: Animals Do the Strangest Things, Reptiles Do the Strangest Things, Birds Do the Strangest Things, and Insects Do the Strangest Things. She also finished Betsy-Tacy and is now reading Betsy-Tacy and Tib.  
E., age 3 fell in love with Ezra Jack Keats this month after reading A Snowy Day. We have since read Pet Show, A Letter to Amy, Peter's Chair, and Hi, Cat. Other frequent requests have been A Birthday for Frances, the Mercy Watson books on audio (as always), and the first book in the Deckawoo Drive series (the chapter book spin off of Mercy Watson), Leroy Ninker Saddles Up.

A. and R., both 11 months, listened to Freight Train by Donald Crews, Hello Lamb by Jane Cabrera, and Goodnight Bear by Jane Cabrera and lots of nursery rhymes. 

Up Next For Me 

I started Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather, so I want to finish that up in early March. It's also Middle Grade March in the Instagram and Booktube communities and I have a whole stack of middle grade books I want to read, including a digital ARC of the newest Greenglass House book and Newbery winners like Sounder, The Hero and the Crown, and Twenty One Balloons.

Linking Up

I'm sharing this post to four link-ups: 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 2/15/21

Lenten Activities

Lent started on Wednesday. This year, we are praying a decade of the Rosary every school morning, and counting to 40 before we eat dinner. On Wednesday, the girls also did an Ash Wednesday coloring page. On Friday, we watched a full children's rosary from EWTN at breakfast, and in the afternoon, M. and C. watched a livestreamed Stations of the Cross from last year on YouTube. 

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "Owl" by Anonymous, "Winter Scene" by Archie Randolph Ammons, "Night of Wind" by Frances M. Frost, "Shiny" by James Reeves," "Afterpeace" by Patrick McDonough, "Winter Morning" by Ogden Nash, "Thaw" by Eunice Tietjens 
  • Articles from Vol. 17 No. 7 of National Geographic Explorer (Pathfinder edition): "Sailing with the Blue Fleet" by Brenna Maloney, "In Search of the Lost City" by Douglas Preston, "The Ups and Downs of Ramps" by Glen Phelan 
  • Art appreciation: Bull Jumping from Come Look with Me: Exploring Landscape Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard 
  • Singing: "Old Folks at Home" by Stephen Foster
  • Music Appreciation: Flight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
  • Catechism: Lesson 18, "The Second and Third Commandments of God" from The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism
  • Memory Work: 
    • C.: "The Tiger" by William Blake, planets, four directions, marks of the church, oceans, continents, days of the week, months of the year, addition and subtraction flashcards
    • M.: "Sea Fever" by John Masefield, seven sacraments, monarchs of England, Great Lakes, books of the Bible, countries of Europe, address, phone number, multiplication and division flashcards
    • E.: "Portrait" by Marchette Chute, alphabet flashcards, number flashcards 


M. is continuing to manage life with a cast. This week, we figured out how to bathe her without getting it wet. She and C. also watched some Operation Ouch videos about sprains and strains and about our sense of taste. 


We focused on muscles this week. We read Muscles by Jane P. Gardner on Hoopla, and watched Muscles Experiments from Operation Ouch and How Muscles Work from Kids Health. M. and C. each labeled the major muscles on a worksheet as well.

On the weekend, M. and C. watched the Perseverance rover land on Mars. 


M. studied Renaissance Art this week. She read Leonardo, Beautiful Dreamer by Robert Byrd and Leonardo da Vinci by Diane Stanley with my husband. They also watched some snippets of BBC art history shows together. 

C. continued reading in History Can Be Fun (we are almost done), and she watched the Weston Woods video adaptation of Where Do You Think You're Going, Christopher Columbus? by Jean Fritz. 


C. did another worksheet of double-digit addition with the soroban. She finished Life of Fred: Butterflies and we have decided to take a break from Fred, probably until the fall when she starts her first official year of school.

M. did some more work in Singapore 3B, finishing Review 5 and starting Review 6. She also did a chapter in Life of Fred: Honey.

Reading and Writing

We finished our lunchtime read-aloud of Islands of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson and started a new read-aloud, The Green Poodles by Charlotte Baker.

C. continued reading Betsy- Tacy and Tib. M. continued reading Dr. Dolittle's Return and she read several books from the Encyclopedia Brown series. 

Instrumental Music

C. practiced piano and recorder each weekday. M. still can't practice because of her arm.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Catholic Book Review: Treasures: Visible and Invisible by (2021)

Treasures: Visible and Invisible
is a brand-new collection of Catholic short stories from a variety of authors and genres, all centering on St. Patrick. In each story, regardless of setting, a shamrock-shaped stone plays an important role. Included here are eight stories, presented in chronological order based on setting:
  • "Treasure in the Bogs" by Theresa Linden tells of the spiritual coming of age of a young man named Magonus Saccatus in 4th century Ireland, and how Magonus comes to use the shamrock as a symbol of the trinity when explaining his faith to others.
  • "A Single Day... Or Not" by Susan Peek follows Brother Dearmad, a 16-year-old monk living several centuries after St. Patrick who wishes he could speed up his path to holiness.
  • "Lucy and the Hidden Clover" by Antony Barone Kolenc is set in 12th century England, where a young girl works to unearth the treasure that will fulfill an elderly nun's dying wish in a surprising way.
  • "Lucky and Blessed" by Amanda Lauer takes place in 1540 in England and brings together Honora, the sixteen-year-old daughter of a baron who finds herself in desperate circumstances and 18-year-old Ambrose, who has recently fled during the dissolution of the monastery where he lived. 
  • "Danke" by Carolyn Astfalk jumps ahead to 19th century Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where we meet William and his large Irish Catholic family, the youngest member of which is very ill with scarlet fever. William needs a miracle for his family, but he's not sure his weekend job at a lake club will be enough help. 
  • "Grace Among Gangsters" by Leslea Wahl is set in the Midwest in the present day, when three teens visit their grandmother and hear for the first time a story from her childhood about a close encounter with mobsters and a surprising source of help.  
  • "In Mouth of Friend and Stranger" by T.M. Gaouette takes place around the year 2000 in London. When Hannah runs away from a dangerous family situation and finds herself on the street, she is befriended by a kind young man named Pat who makes it his mission to see that she finds a safe place to stay. 
  • "The Underappreciated Virtues of Green-Fingered Monsters" by Corinna Turner follows Kyle through a futuristic England in which faith is outlawed and to practice Catholicism or consider the priesthood is a matter of life and death. 

Each story is accompanied by an author's note and a brief author bio. Several of the stories feature characters who appear in full-length works of their own. 

I was completely blown away by how good every single one of these stories is. Most of the time, collections of stories will have highs and lows, stories that work really well and others that don't quite accomplish their goals. This collection, however, is consistently excellent from beginning to end. Every story is engaging. Genres that I typically don't enjoy drew me in anyway, and each of the characters is so memorable I'm still thinking about them weeks later. I loved that each story had the common element of the stone, and of St. Patrick's presence either physically or spiritually, but that each author did such different things with these central themes. 

There is also something so comforting about reading an entire book that aligns with Catholic teaching. I didn't really appreciate how much my guard is often up when I'm reading mainstream fiction until I felt myself relax into the world of these stories. It was so rewarding to be able to settle in fully and trust that the authors were never going to lead me into offensive or blatantly anti-Catholic content. I had a personal affinity for this collection, too, I think, because my father's family is Irish and many of these characters had experiences similar to those I imagine my ancestors must have gone through.

I loved this book so much that I immediately went on Amazon and downloaded the Kindle editions of the two previous collections Catholic Teen Books has published: Secrets: Visible and Invisible and Gifts: Visible and Invisible. I also started making a list of other titles I want to read by these authors. I have mistakenly been of the opinion that Catholic fiction would somehow be boringly pious or otherwise saccharine, and this collection has opened my eyes to all that I have been missing in the world of YA Catholic writing.  I also feel like I want to take another crack at Catholic fiction writing myself and see if there might be room for me in that world. 

All Catholic readers, adults and teens, and even younger kids who are ready for a bit more sophisticated content, need books like this one on their shelves and in their reading lives. I truly cannot say enough good things about this book. There are not many new books I would allow my kids to read because either the content is objectionable or the quality is poor. This book I will absolutely allow - and definitely even encourage - my kids to read when they reach the target age range. 

I was sent a .PDF review copy of this book by one of the authors, Carolyn Astfalk, in exchange for my honest review. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Book Review: How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster (2014)

How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster was originally published in 2003. I read the revised edition, issued in 2014.  This book teaches the reader how to look for symbols, themes, and patterns in works of literature in the way that is expected by English professors. Using widely read examples by authors such as James Joyce, Toni Morrison, D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Flannery O'Connor, and Katherine Mansfield, Foster highlights the meaning hidden between the lines of literary works and explains the commonly understood significance of everything from heart disease to highways. 

I have long wondered why so many of my college classmates seemed to get such wildly different things out of reading assignments than I did, and I suspected this book held a lot of the answers. I was not wrong. This book does indeed unlock a secret code that true English majors seem to know and happily follow. If I had read this book before applying to college, I would have done things very differently because there is one thing I now know for sure: I never want to read literature like a professor. 

I think one of the most irritating aspects of my college English classes was the obsession with sexual imagery. I started college at 17, coming from a (happily) sheltered background and honestly I don't think I fully realized that an author would put sexual content into a book on purpose. Even now, 20 years later, I think there was still a part of me that felt the same way the author of this book says many people feel: that English professors just have dirty minds. This book, however, makes it pretty clear that 20th century writers, at least, were writing about sex whenever they mentioned bowls, keys, waves, and/or staircases, and that a part of the job of the reader is to find these subtle cues and make sense of them. I don't like the idea of spending my time that way, and if my ignorance of sexual innuendo is a reason that I wasn't a better English major, that is fine by me. 

Another thing that struck me was in Foster's chapter on Christ figures. He writes: "[I]f you want to read literature like a professor, you need to put aside your belief system, at least for the period during which you read, so you can see what the writer is trying to say." For better or for worse, when I was in college, I did not do this. Refusing to set aside my beliefs while I read was not a conscious decision, but I think my established worldview was such that it would never occur to me to assume anyone thought certain topics were appropriate to include in books, or that it was appropriate for me to discuss those topics with other people in front of a professor. Obviously, we need to be able to empathize with points of view other than our own to make sense of certain books, and I think I am better at that now, but I definitely was not about to go looking for immoral subject matter in my homework assignments.

This book also disagrees with me about authors as authorities. When I wrote my thesis on Flannery O'Connor, my chief argument was that she wrote her stories to fulfill a particular mission which she stated over and over again in her lifetime. I was specifically refuting a collection of essays which argued that her book could be read without a religious lens. Foster, though, argues that what an author intends isn't relevant and that if we see something in a text, that means it's probably there. This way of thinking opens the Pandora's box for every self-important undergraduate to rewrite texts in their own image, and I hate that. What the author means matters. If he hasn't conveyed it well, so be it, but to use the author's words to tell whatever story you wish to read is obnoxiously narcissistic and represents everything I hated about majoring in English. 

Obviously, I have a big chip on my shoulder about academia, so I went into this book with negative preconceptions and that colors my reading of it quite a bit. Just to counteract my criticisms, I do want to mention the positive aspects I saw in the book. I really appreciated Foster's willingness to consider books through the lens of the time period in which they were published. Too often nowadays books fall out of favor because they don't express contemporary beliefs on a given topic. But a book is a product of its time and to understand it, we have to stand in the shoes of the characters in the story and/or the reader of that time period. I also loved the way he used "The Garden Party" by Katherine Mansfield as a case study. The analyses of the story were so interesting, and though I could never have come up with them on my own in a thousand years, I enjoyed them. Really, though, the moments I enjoyed most in this book involved Foster's thoughts on Ulysses. He says two things that validated my experience with that monster of a novel: 

  1. "The only thing that can really prepare you to read Ulysses is reading Ulysses."
  2. "Ulysses is not for beginners. When you feel you've become a graduate reader, go there. My undergraduates get through it, but they struggle, even with a good deal of help."
Last year, I concluded that it would be impossible for an undergraduate to really get Ulysses and it does make me feel better to realize that I'm not alone in this opinion.

Ultimately, I think this is a great book to read for high school juniors or seniors who are considering majoring in English because it will help them decide whether they'll be able to stomach it or not. This book accurately represents the kinds of things that were discussed regularly in my college-level English classes, and had this book been available prior to my applying to college, I might have made a different decision. I despise the kind of literary analysis that attaches symbolic meaning to everything and insists that what the author is "really" saying is never on the surface and has to be coaxed out through endless debate and argument, and that any reading is valid so the author doesn't actually matter anyway. I learned that about myself during a very expensive four years. Even in hardcover, this book would have been a much cheaper investment.

I usually love a good book about books, but I didn't love this one at all. If anything, it made me want to stop reading altogether because there is no hope of my ever getting it "right." Readers who genuinely enjoy dissecting the books they read will probably love this book, but if that's not your thing, there isn't much this book can do other than rain on your reading parade.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 2/8/21

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "Winter Morning" by Angela Topping, "Icy Morning Haiku" by James Carter, "Dust of Snow" by Robert Frost, "When" by Dorothy Aldis, "White Sheep" by W.H. Davies
  • Articles from Vol. 18 No. 2 of National Geographic Explorer (Trailblazer edition): "Why Birds Matter" by Jonathan Franzen, "Out of Eden" by Paul Salopek, "The Magic Behind Their Movement" by Brenna Maloney
  • Art appreciation: Michigan Avenue with View of the Art Institute by Richard Estes from Come Look with Me: Exploring Landscape Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard (This was the last painting in this book. The girls loved that it looked so real that it could be mistaken for a photograph. We also reviewed all the previous paintings.) 
  • Singing: "Old Folks at Home" by Stephen Foster, Ave Regina Caelorum, Gloria from Mass VIII (Missa de Angelis)
  • Music Appreciation: William Tell Overture: "Finale" by Gioachino Rossini
  • Catechism: Lesson 17, "Honoring the Saints, Relics, and Images" from The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism
  • From Picture Book of Saints by Rev. Lawrence G. Lovasik, SV.D. (Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1979): St Bernadette (for the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes on 2/11)


This was our main subject this week, as M. got her cast on Monday morning and had her regular check-up at the pediatrician on Tuesday. She told the whole story of her injury and treatment to us, and to Gran, and then we recorded a more formal narration for school. 


We were meant to discuss muscles and tendons this week, but we missed a couple of days and only really started at the end of the week with a few notes from EESE. We also read aloud You Can't Make a Move Without Your Muscles by Paul Showers and watched a video from Operation Ouch

C has been reading Sea Creatures Do Amazing Things by Arthur Myers, and she developed an interest in coral reefs. She did a coral reef coloring page and watched a National Geographic video about the Great Barrier Reef.


M. finished A Picturesque Tale of Progress: New Nations II with chapter VIII "Italian City-States and the Renaissance." She watched some related art history lessons on Khan Academy. She also learned about the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and about perspective. 

C. read up to the time of Columbus in History Can Be Fun. She watched Marco Polo from PBS World Explorers. 


C. is practicing double-digit addition on the soroban with worksheets from She also completed Life of Fred: Butterflies Chapter 18 and worked on Khan Academy every day. 

M. didn't do much math in her Singapore book because she was out and about for medical appointments, but she did Khan Academy every day and flashcards drill of multiplication and division on Friday. 

Reading and Writing 

C. finished Betsy-Tacy and moved onto the second book. She also read Birds Do the Strangest Things and Jenny's in the Hospital,  a book from my childhood about a girl who breaks her arm and hits her head and has to stay overnight in the hospital for observation. 

M. read The Valentine Party by Pamela Bianco to Gran on Sunday. She's still reading Dr. Dolittle's Return by Hugh Lofting and Ereth's Birthday by Avi. She also read Stella Batts: Broken Birthday by Courtney Sheinmel, which was a get-well gift from my mom.  

Instrumental Music

C. practiced piano and recorder, though not as often as she was supposed to. M. didn't practice because of her cast.

Other Activities

On Tuesday, we had lunch over Skype with Aunt B. On Thursday, all three girls made valentines for each other and for friends with whom we had a quick exchange on Friday. On Saturday, we had our annual Valentine tea party. On Sunday, we attended the Latin Mass. We also got to Zoom with my brother- and sister-in-law so we could see their new baby. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 2/1/21

Morning Time

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "When Skies Are Low and Days are Dark" by N.M. Bodecker, "Snow Toward Evening" by Melville Cane, "Red Fox" by Coral Rumble, "February Twilight" by Sara Teasdale, "Spellbound" by Emily Bronte 
  • Articles from National Geographic Explorer magazine (Trailblazer edition): Vol. 18. No. 3: "Extreme Plants" by Lynn Brunelle, "Living with Lava Domes," "Something Screwy Going On" by Glen Phelan 
  • Art appreciation: Mountains and Sea by Helen Frankenthaler from Come Look with Me: Exploring Landscape Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard 
  • Singing: Simple Gifts, Gloria from Mass VIII (Missa de Angelis)
  • Memory work: C.: continents, directions, planets, months, days of the week, "The Tiger" by William Blake; M: marks of the church, 7 sacraments, oceans, Great Lakes, 50 states, 13 colonies, first 16 books of the Bible, "A Christmas Carol" by Kenneth Grahame, countries of Europe; E: numbers 1-10, letters of the alphabet
  • Catechism: Lesson 16, "The First Commandment of God" from The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism
  • Music Appreciation: Orpheus in the Underworld: "Can-Can" by Jacques Offenbach  



This week, we did the first two sections of BFSU lesson B-6: "How Animals Move I: The Skeleton and Muscle System" using EESE as a guide. On Monday, we labeled the bones of the human skeleton using a blank labeling sheet from (The answer key they provided didn't use scientific names so I didn't bother printing it out.) I modified this game so that all the bones were included. Drawing one card at a time, I had M. and C. take turns pointing to the bones on their own bodies. On Tuesday,we read Give Me Back My Bones! by Kim Norman and again had the girls point to the bones as they were named, and we also read Skulls by Blair Thornburg. 

I also showed these videos: 

E. did her next Koala Crate, Glowing Nature, which involved making a mushroom lantern, a stuffed firefly, and a jelly fish game. 


M. read about the Holy Roman Empire in Germany from A Picturesque Tale of Progress.  She has also started The Apple and the Arrow by Mary and Conrad Buff. C. watched National Geographic videos about Egypt, Greece, and Rome: Ancient Egypt 101, Ancient Greece 101, Ancient Rome 101. She also watched Castles for Kids: What is a Castle?


M. and C. continued working in their respective Singapore books. Both did review sections with word problems, and C. finished Singapore 1B. M. completed Life of Fred: Honey Chapter 12 and C. did Life of Fred: Butterflies Chapter 17.

Reading and Writing 

M. read aloud to Gran from Cricket magazine over Skype. She also practiced putting words into alphabetical order. She also read a few books in the Poppy series by Avi, a few chapters in Schoolhouse in the Woods by Rebecca Caudill and a few chapters in Dr. Dolittle's Return.

C. read The Rackety Packety House by Frances Hodgson Burnett, then attempted to read a book called Angela, Private Citizen but it was a little bit too hard so she has switched over to Betsy-Tacy.

E. is still on an Ezra Jack Keats kick, but she also asked to hear The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Alfie Gives a Hand by Shirley Hughes. 

Instrumental Music

Both girls practiced piano and recorder.

Other Activities

The girls played in the snow on our deck on Monday and Tuesday. On Friday, they worked with geoboards. 


On Sunday morning, M. was "planning a jump" from the bunk bed, and she fell and fractured her arm above the elbow. She had x-rays at urgent care, and learned some new vocabulary, including "supracondylar" and "humerus." This happened on the heels of me saying to my husband that I should probably just go ahead and publish this post because "What could possibly happen on Sunday?" Famous last words. 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 1/25/21

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "Star Wish" by Anonymous, "The Star (Extract)" by Jane Taylor, "January" by John Updike, "Winter Time" by Robert Louis Stevenson, "The Furry Ones" by Aileen Fisher, "Maggie" by Anonymous 
  • Articles from National Geographic Explorer magazine (Trailblazer edition) Vol. 17 No. 4: "Turned to Stone" by Michael Greshko, "Mineral Mania" by Beth Geiger, "Frozen...Again!" by Cynthia Overbeck Bix  
  • Art appreciation: Red Hills and Bones by Georgia O'Keeffe from Come Look with Me: Exploring Landscape Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard 
  • Singing: Simple Gifts, Gloria from Mass VIII (Missa de Angelis)
  • Memory work: C.: continents, directions, planets, months, days of the week, "The Tiger" by William Blake; M: marks of the church, 7 sacraments, oceans, Great Lakes, 50 states, 13 colonies, first 16 books of the Bible, "A Christmas Carol" by Kenneth Grahame, countries of Europe; E: numbers 1-10, letters of the alphabet 
  • Catechism: Lesson 16, "The First Commandment of God" from The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism.  
  • Music Appreciation: "Appalachian Spring: Variations on a Shaker Tune" by Aaron Copland 


This week's section of BFSU was "C-4: Concepts of Energy III: Distinguishing Between Matter and Energy." Using EESE as our guide, we compared matter and energy.  We read Matter: See It, Touch It, Taste It, Smell It by Darlene R. Stille and  Heat by Sally M. Walker and the girls watched Science Video for Kids: What is Energy? We had scheduled two weeks for this topic, but we didn't even need one full week to cover everything. 


M. read about medieval France in A Picturesque Tale of Progress. C. continued reading History Can Be Fun, covering Ancient Greece and the beginnings of Ancient Rome. 


M. and C. both worked in their respective Singapore books. Both did review sections with word problems. M. completed Life of Fred: Honey Chapter 11 and C. did Life of Fred: Butterflies Chapter 16. 

Reading and Writing 

M. finished reading Our Little Crusader Cousin of Long Ago to Gran on Skype. She also composed a thank you note to my sister-in-law without help and then we corrected her spelling and punctuation. 

C. read Beezus and Ramona

E. discovered A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats and started looking for other books about Peter on our shelves. 

Instrumental Music

Both girls practiced piano and recorder.

Other Activities

We had a masked outdoor playdate with our neighbors' grandkids on Friday. On Sunday, the girls played out on the deck in the snow. We also made Valentines for our long-distance relatives to they would get in the mail early enough to arrive on time. We used construction paper, crayons, and heart stickers from Dollar Tree. 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Read-at-Home Mom Report: January 2021 Wrap-Up

My Month in Books

January was a great reading month for me. I read 17 books, of which 10 were books for adults and 7 were kids' books. Here's a quick run-down: 

Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt (5 stars)
[reviewed on the blog]
This middle grade novel is set in the same universe as The Wednesday Wars and deals with Meryl Lee Kowalski's grief following the death of a beloved character from that earlier book. It was tough getting past the death but Schmidt's writing is impeccable as always. 

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr (3 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
The memoirs discussed in this book are more literary than what I typically like to read, but I enjoyed reading the author's thoughts on honesty in memoir writing and on the impact of writing down difficult memories on the family members who share them. 

The End of Her by Shari Lapena (3 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
This author's books are always quick reads, and this was no exception. I didn't think this one was quite as good as some of her previous titles, but I still mostly enjoyed all its twists and turns. I just didn't love the ending.

Nancy and Plum by Betty MacDonald (4 stars)
[reviewed on the blog in 2016]
This middle grade book was a re-read for me, but this time I read it aloud to my oldest two girls. They loved it and they are still talking about the adventures Nancy and Plum had at the boarding house run by the horrible Mrs. Monday.

The Bookish Holidays of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman (5 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
I meant to read this short story during Christmas and forgot, so I decided to just read it instead of hoping to remember next year. It was a nice follow-up to The Bookish Life of Nina Hill and a very cozy winter read. 

The Late Show by Michael Connelly (5 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
I loved this police procedural book which is the first in a series that is connected to the author's long-running Bosch series. I listened to the audiobook and really enjoyed the straightforward writing style and the interesting main character. 

Felicia the Critic by Ellen Conford (4 stars) 
[reviewed on the blog in 2020]
This short middle grade novel was our other January read-aloud. Unfortunately, I think the lesson - that criticism is not always welcome or necessary - was lost on the child who needed to hear it most. 

The Black Echo by Michael Connelly (4 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
After enjoying The Late Show, I went back and read this first Bosch book. Though I liekd it, it took me a while to get into it, and I actually abandoned the second  book of the series at 60% when I realized I was bored and not retaining any details. In the future, I plan to skip around among this author's books and just read the ones that grab my interest. 

A Kind of Paradise by Amy Rebecca Tan (5 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
This adorable middle grade novel is a love letter to public libraries. Though there is a bit too much young teen dating and use of the Lord's name in vain for me to want to hand it to my kids at this stage, it was otherwise the perfect book for me and it made me completely nostalgic for my old library job in New York. 

The Love of Friends by Nancy Bond (3 stars)
[reviewed on the blog]
This was a disappointing third book in a trilogy that started with The Best of Enemies in 1978. I had been hoping that this book would redeem some of what happens in book two, A Place To Come Back To, but the first book turned out to be the only one worth reading. The writing was great, but the story left a lot to be desired.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (5 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
I first read this trilogy 20 years ago and I'm re-reading it via audiobook over the first three months of 2021. I loved it just as much this time as the first time, but I was a little surprised that it wasn't the intimidating tome I imagined it to be as a college student. 

The Heart of the Family by Elizabeth Goudge (5 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
This was a fitting ending to a wonderful trilogy about family, faith, home, and so much more. I'd love to own these books.  

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (4 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
This is a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. It was more like a romantic comedy than I think is typical for this author, and the best parts of it were about the daily lives of the characters rather than the central relationship. 

The Professor's House by Willa Cather (5 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads
I have learned to go into Cather books with no expectations, and this one was a very pleasant surprise. It was a bit melancholy, but the characters were very well-drawn and I zipped through the whole thing in just a few days. 

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (5 stars)
[review on Goodreads coming soon]
I listened to this one on audio, and it was beautiful from start to finish. I can't wait to read the companion novels. 

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang (5 stars)
[review on the blog coming soon]
I borrowed this young adult graphic novel about basketball at a Catholic high school from Libby on a whim after seeing two positive reviews on Instagram, and I could not put it down. I'll save the details for my review, but this is absolutely deserving of all the praise it's getting. 

Over the Blue Mountain by Conrad Richter (4 stars)
[review on the blog coming soon]
My husband read this story about what happens to two Pennsylvania Dutch boys on the day when it is said  that "Mary goes over the mountain," and he loved it and insisted that I read it immediately. There are lots of parallels to the story of the Visitation, but I felt like something was missing to really connect the dots, so I only gave it 4 stars.  

The Best of the Bunch

This year I've decided to join the link-up hosted by A Cocoon of Books and share my favorite titles of each month. I had seven 5-star reads in January, but  of all of them, the ones I enjoyed the most were The Professor's House by Willa Cather and Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang.

As for the rest of the family's reading...

In addiiton to Over the Blue Mountain, my husband read Ezra Jack Keats: A Biography with Illustrations, which he also wants me to read ASAP. (I am counting on it to be a much better representation of Keats's life than A Poem for Peter.) 

M., age 7, finished the Ramona series and has now moved on to Avi's Dimwood Forest series. She got three of the books for Christmas, but we didn't realize we didn't have book one, so she started with Poppy rather than Ragweed. Grandma ordered the rest of the books, though, and they'll be here in a few days! 

C., age 5, finished Henry Huggins and Henry and Beezus and started Beezus and Ramona. (Beverly Cleary is extremely popular here right now.) She is also reading History Can Be Fun by Munro Leaf as part of her homeschool work, and she is really loving all the information about ancient civilizations that she has gathered from it so far. 

M. and C. are also both enjoying our read-aloud of Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson, but I'm finding it kind of a let-down. 

E., age 3, discovered The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, as well as The Summer Snowman by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham and White Snow Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt and Roger Duvoisin. She is also still really into Mercy Watson and quotes entire passages from the books all the time. Another current favorite of hers is Little Sleepyhead by Elizabeth McPike and Patrice Barton. 

Baby girl A. and baby boy R., age 10 months, received new books from Grandma in the mail. Two of them were three-in-one books from Cottage Door Press showing what you can see if you Look Up!, Look Around! and Look Down! on the farm and in the forest. The others were Melissa and Doug EZ Page Turners board books to help them practice turning pages.  

Up Next for Me

I actually made a to-read list for February because there are so many things I'm interested in reading.  Among the titles on my list are The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien, Motherhood Redeemed by Kimberly Cook, Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy, Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather, Mother Angelica by Raymond Arroyo, and How To Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster.  

Linking Up

I'm sharing this post to four link-ups: 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Book Review: A Place to Come Back To (1984) and The Love of Friends (1997) by Nancy Bond

A Place To Come Back To and The Love of Friends are the sequels to The Best of Enemies (1978). In book two, A Place To Come Back To, Charlotte, now a teenager, struggles to help her friend Oliver when the death of his great uncle threatens the life he has established for himself in Concord. Charlotte tries to be helpful, but her naivete surrounding family dysfunction frustrates Oliver and strains their relationship. In book three, The Love of Friends, Oliver once again introduces a stressful situation by having Charlotte come to visit him in London without his parents' knowledge. As they masquerade as adults and take a secret side journey to Scotland, Oliver meets with an old friend of his great-uncle (a character the reader has previously met in book one) and Charlotte tries to advise a young woman who has recently discovered she is pregnant.

While I very much enjoy the way Nancy Bond writes, the second book was largely a let-down after the excellence of the first one. Oliver is endlessly frustrating and depressing to spend time with, and though I completely understood Charlotte's lack of perspective about his emotional demands on her, and even his inability to process his grief, it still drove me nuts that he was constantly so selfish and that she never seemed to be bothered enough to say anything. The second book ended on such a sad and uncertain note, however, that there was no way I wasn't going to read the last one. 

Unfortunately, the third book suffers from the same frustrating issues, just on another continent. I am usually not much for books whose sole purpose is to empower girls because they come across as preachy, but Charlotte is so passive and there is so little evidence that she ever figures out how to stand up for herself in her weird friendship with Oliver, that I was almost desperate for a girl power message. Somehow, too, the third book is suddenly very concerned with sneaking in more progressive content, including a gay couple and the possibility of an abortion. These things have no bearing at all on Charlotte or Oliver, so they read like gratuitous pandering to trends in the greater culture in the late '90s. (And this doesn't make much sense, since the first book was published in 1978 and only about three years pass from book one to book three.) The British setting was fun, but all the emotional baggage weighs down the book as a whole. 

Overall, these two books reminded me a lot of Madeleine L'Engle's books about Vicky Austin and Zachary Gray.  The writing is great, but sometimes I had to wonder what the point of this friendship was. The whimsy and mystery of The Best of Enemies is just totally missing from these sequels, and I finished the series feeling more depressed than hopeful for these characters. We own all three books now, so we may hang onto them, but truly the only one I would be likely to give to my kids to actually read is that first book. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Favorite Authors I Discovered in 2020

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic is New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2020. I discovered quite a few authors for the first time last year, and added some new favorites to my list. Here are ten, in no particular order.

  • Jan Karon
    I have known of Jan Karon and her Mitford books for a long time, but had always dismissed them, thinking they would be too saccharine or preachy. But someone on Instagram mentioned that At Home in Mitford had strong fall vibes when I was looking for autumn-themed reading material, and I decided to try the audiobook. Between September and the end of the year I ended up reading 8 of these books!

  • Rosamunde Pilcher
    This is another author I'd heard of but had never tried for myself. In September, I read September  and in December, I read Winter Solstice. Both were very cozy, relaxing reads.

  • Anne Rivers Siddons
    I found Colony by this author when I was looking for pre-2000 women's fiction to listen to over the summer. I loved it so much that I bought several others of the author's books, including Outer Banks, which I also really enjoyed.

  • Fredrik Backman
    I wanted to try this author, and I decided to start with Beartown. I loved the writing, and I thought he handled difficult subject matter very tastefully and gracefully. I plan to read more of his books in 2021.

  • Beth O'Leary
    I downloaded the audio review copy of The Switch from NetGalley and really loved the story. I am planning to read The Flatshare by this author in 2021.

  • Katherine Center
    I read Things You Save in a Fire because the description sounded interesting. I then immediately downloaded the ARC of What You Wish For from Edelweiss. I like that these are love stories with some substance.  

  • Abby Jimenez
    The Happy Ever After Playlist was one of the books in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide. It was the perfect summer read.  

  • Abbi Waxman
    I read both The Bookish Life of Nina Hill and I Was Told It Would Get Easier and then I bought Other People's Houses and The Garden of Small Beginnings for Kindle. I love the way Waxman writes.

  • Anne Tyler 
    Redhead by the Side of the Road from the Modern Mrs. Darcy summer reading guide was my first Anne Tyler and I gave it five stars. 

  • Wendell Berry
    I had been saying for years I was going to try Wendell Berry and in 2020 I decided to read Hannah Coulter. It was beautifully written and it was one of my favorites of the year. 

Homeschool Update: Week of 1/18/21

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "White Fields" by James Stephens, "A Morning Walk" a Southern Paiute song translated by John Wesley Powell, "Small, Smaller" by Russell Hoban, "Over wintry wind-whipped waves" by Anonymous, "Shell" by Ted Hughes 
  • Articles from: National Geographic Explorer: Trailblazer Women in Science Issue 
  • Art appreciation: Route 6, Eastham. by Edward Hopper from Come Look with Me: Exploring Landscape Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard 
  • Singing: Red River Valley, Gloria from Mass VIII (Missa de Angelis)
  • Memory work: C.: continents, directions, planets, months, days of the week, "The Tiger" by William Blake; M: marks of the church, 7 sacraments, oceans, Great Lakes, 50 states, 13 colonies, first eight books of the Bible, "A Christmas Carol" by Kenneth Grahame; E: numbers 1-10, letters of the alphabet 
  • Catechism: Lesson 14, The Resurrection and Life Everlasting and Lesson 15, The Two Great Commandments from The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism 
  • Music Appreciation: "A Midsummer Night's Dream: Scherzo" by Felix Mendelssohn 


This week we learned about the water cycle. We read Water for Dinosaurs and You by Roma Gans and conducted experiments with evaporation as described in Early Elementary Science Education by Shannon Jordan. We also watched several water cycle videos: 
M. did her first mission with her Go Pi Go robot: creating an obstacle course. 


M. read Joan of Arc by Josephine Poole and Angela Barrett and Joan of Arc by Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel and  she colored a stained glass coloring book page of her image from Shining Light Dolls. She also looked at Rulers of Britain by Peter Somerset Fry, Chaucer and His World by Ian Serraillier, The Canterbury Tales by Selina Hastings and Reg Cartwright, The Canterbury Tales: An Illustrated Edition,  and A Taste of Chaucer: Selections from The Canterbury Tales by Anne Malcolmson. She watched What Was Life Like? | Episode 5: Medieval - Meet a Medieval Monk, What Was Life Like? | Episode 6: Castles - Meet A Medieval Noblewoman, and the three episodes of Chivalry and Betrayal: The Hundred Years War. She;s also working on memorizing the monarchs of England through the Plantagenets using this rhyme.

C. started reading History Can Be Fun by Munro Leaf, and she was introduced to pyramids, pharaohs and papyrus, Mesopotamia, the Tigris and Euphrates and the Phoenicians. She really loves this book and is really excited to read it each day. She reads it aloud to me, and I just jump in to help with tricky vocabulary.


C. has gone back to working on Singapore math. She is working on the money exercises using the skills she practiced in the Complete Book of Time and Money

M. took a break from Singapore this week to get some extra practice reducing fractions to their simplest forms. I generated worksheets of 20 problems, and she worked on ten each day. 

Reading and Writing 

M. continued reading Our Little Crusader Cousin of Long Ago to Gran on Skype. (They will finish by the end of next week.)

C. is now reading Henry and Beezus by Beverly Cleary.  

Instrumental Music

Both girls practiced piano and recorder

Other Activities

On Wednesday, the girls painted with tempera paint. On Friday, they had a masked playdate outside with friends.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 1/11/21

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "Winter Days" by Gareth Owen, "Snow in the Suburbs" by Thomas Hardy, "A Hard Winter" by Wes Magee, "In the Garden" by Anonymous, "Once I Saw a Little Bird" by Anonymous
  • Articles from Kids Discover magazine: The Middle Ages (This was much better written than the previous week's issue about bicycles. It was engaging for C., for whom it was new, and M., for whom it was review.)
  • Art Appreciation: New York Waterfront by Stuart Davis from Come Look with Me: Exploring Landscape Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard 
  • Singing: Red River Valley
  • Memory work: C.: continents, directions, planets, months, days of the week, "The Tiger" by William Blake, address, phone number; M: marks of the church, 7 sacraments, oceans, Great Lakes, 50 states, 13 colonies, first eight books of the Bible, "A Christmas Carol" by Kenneth Grahame; E: numbers 1-10
  • Music Appreciation: Symphony No. 94, "Surprise": Second Movement by Franz Joseph Haydn


We worked some with magnets over the summer before deciding on our science schedule for the school year, so much of this unit was review. We watched a few videos, including some about about maglevs that both M. and C. found really interesting:  

C. also did her first Kiwi Crate this week. She made an arcade claw and some pom pom friends to grab with it. She loved this project and can't wait for the next one. 


M. read about the development of Parliament in A Picturesque Tale of Progress. She also read The Bayeux Tapestry: The story of the Norman Conquest: 1066 by Norman Denny and Josephine Filmer-Sankey, The Norman Conquest by Walter C. Hodges, Magna Carta by Walter C. Hodges, and Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz. She watched The Bayeux Tapestry - all of it, from start to finish, The Animated Bayeux Tapestry, History at Home Live! – 1066 and the Battle of HastingsThe Story of Magna Carta, What Was Life Like? | Episode 3: Anglo-Saxons - Meet an Anglo-Saxon Warrior, and What Was Life Like? | Episode 4: Normans - Meet William the Conqueror and King Harold. She also looked at a panoramic image of the Bayeux Tapestry and she visited

C. finished The Big Golden Book of Cavemen and Other Prehistoric People. She watched a few videos to finish out this topic:  


C. finished counting with quarters in the Complete Book of Time and Money. M. continued working on fractions in Singapore 3B.

Reading and Writing 

C. read Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary. M. continued reading aloud Our Little Crusader Cousin of Long Ago to Gran over Skype. She also read Ramona and her Father, Ramona and her Mother, and Ramona Quimby Age 8 on her own. 

Instrumental Music

Both girls practiced piano and recorder every day.

Other activities 

The girls did their exercise video from the Ten Thousand Method  and had a masked outdoor playdate on Friday. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Read-at-Home Kids Report: Candlewick Picture Books (November 2020)

I fell behind on reviewing picture books at the end of 2020, but even though these have been out for a few months now, I think it's still worth sharing my three oldest girls' thoughts (and mine) about these titles.

Ellie's Dragon by Bob Graham

When she is very small, Ellie, the daughter of a single mom, finds a newly hatched dragon whom she names Scratch. Though none of the adults in her life can see him, Scratch goes everywhere with Ellie - even to preschool. As Ellie approaches the teen years, however, her need for Scratch diminishes until one day he leaves Ellie to find a new friend.

All three girls liked this one. Little Bo Peep (5 years, 3 months), said her favorite parts were when Ellie named the dragon and when the dragon found a new friend. For Little Jumping Joan (3 years, 2 months) ., the best part of the book was the illustration where Scratch first flew. Little Miss Muffet (7 years, 1 month) said her favorite part was when Ellie found Scratch. I thought the story was really similar to "Puff the Magic Dragon" and I went back and forth between thinking the song and story would make a good pairing and feeling like the book was unnecessary since we already have the song.

Mr. Brown's Bad Day by Lou Peacock, illustrated by Alison Friend

Mr. Brown, a tiger who is a very important businessman, has a bad day when a baby elephant snatches his briefcase, sending it on a path that leads Mr. Brown all over town. The briefcase has very important items inside, and Mr. Brown just can't rest until he has them back.

Little Bo Peep enjoyed the fact that different animals kept ending up in the briefcase. She especially liked the baby elephant. Little Jumping Joan liked that the baby elephant hung the briefcase from the ice cream vendor's cart. Miss Muffet said her favorite part was the ending, which got a big "Awww" from all three girls. The ending didn't work as well for me, but I think it got the intended reaction out of the girls.

Can Bears Ski? by Raymond Antrobus, illustrated by Polly Dunbar

Little Bear doesn't know whether bears can ski, and he is tired of being asked, until he and his dad visit an audiologist who helps him realize people are asking, "Can you hear me?" After he is fitted for hearing aides, the answer to that question becomes a resounding yes.

The girls did not get this one. They could not understand that, to someone reading lips "Can bears ski?" and "Can you hear me?" might look alike. The ending was also too subtle for them to grasp and trying to make sense of the last page distracted them from talking about anything else in the book. I tried multiple ways of explaining it, but while they could appreciate that Little Bear could not hear, the story focused their questions on the meaning of the text rather than the implications of Little Bear's discovery.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 1/4/21

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "January" by Winifred C. Marshall, "Birch Trees" by John Richard Moreland, "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost, "Diamond Poem" by John Foster, "Snowflakes" by Leroy F. Jackson
  • Articles from Kids Discover magazine Bicycles issue 
  • Art appreciation: Day and Night by M.C. Escher from Come Look with Me: Exploring Landscape Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard 
  • Singing: We Three Kings  
  • Memory work: C.: continents, directions, planets, months, days of the week, excerpt from the Gospel of Luke; M: marks of the church, 7 sacraments, oceans, Great Lakes, 50 states, 13 colonies, first eight books of the Bible, "A Christmas Carol" by Kenneth Grahame; E: numbers 1-10
  • Music Appreciation: Amahl and the Night Visitors 


We moved things around in our schedule for this second half of the school year, so now we're doing science immediately after breakfast instead of after lunch. This week, we revisited magnets, which we covered over the summer, but which came up again in BFSU and EESE. We reviewed the first two parts of the lesson in EESE and then watched some videos: 

The favorites for both girls were the SciShow Kids and Dr. Binocs videos. They actually retained everything we covered over the summer, too, so I think that added to their interest in the videos. 

E. opened her first Koala Crate, the theme of which was rainbows. She made a rainbow pillow, a tie-dyed tote bag, and a stained glass window craft. She absolutely loved it, and has been sleeping with the pillow every night. 


C. finished her Sticker Histories book about the Ice Age and went back to reading from The Big Golden Book of Cavemen and Other Prehistoric People

M. finished learning about medieval Spain by reading about the Alhambra. She then discussed it with Gran, who has been there. Then she started on medieval England with the story of Beowulf in A Picturesque Tale of Progress.  


C. spent some time with real coins reviewing their values and continued workings with dimes, nickels, and pennies in The Complete Book of Time and Money. We had been having her fill out the worksheets on the computer, but because so many of the pages started involving coloring and matching, we printed out a few of them for her to be able to work on without having to master the stylus. 

Reading and Writing 

C. continued reading Twig, and after finishing it, drew a picture of the characters. M. zipped through two Ramona books: Ramona and her Father and Ramona and her Mother. She has been enjoying reading in my bedroom closet, and if she isn't interrupted will happily sit in there and read an entire book in a single afternoon. M. also worked on her Christmas thank-you notes and continued reading Our Little Crusader Cousin of Long Ago on Skype with Gran. 

Instrumental Music

M. and C. both practiced piano and recorder daily.


Of her own volition, M. drew a picture of an ear cleaner (called "CleanEar") that she invented.

Other Activities

We had a masked playdate with the grandkids of our next door neighbors. We also attended a Latin Mass at a new parish, and M. followed along with the Latin. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

An Open Book: January 2021

This year, I've decided to join in each month with An Open Book, a link-up hosted by Carolyn Astfalk at and My Scribbler's Heart where everyone shares what they and/or their families are currently reading. I'm getting this one in just under the wire, but hopefully I'll be better prepared for next month.

I recently stayed up until 2 o'clock in the morning to finish the latest middle grade novel by Gary D. Schmidt, Just Like That, which just came out January 5th. Something horrible happens to a beloved character from one of Schmidt's previous novels in the first chapter, and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to enjoy the book after that, but happily that was not the case. This was a definite five-star read for me. 

This month I'm also slowly working my way through The Heart of the Family by Elizabeth Goudge and a re-read of The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as the audiobook of The Late Show by Michael Connelly, which has a really interesting female detective as its lead character and an obscure 1990s middle grade novel called The Love of Friends by Nancy Bond. I've also been reading aloud to my three oldest girls at lunch time and right before bed. We just finished Nancy and Plum by Betty MacDonald and now we're reading Felicia the Critic by Ellen Conford. 

My husband is reading Bartholomew Fair by Mary Stolz. I haven't read it yet myself, but it's a middle grade novel that follows several characters, including Queen Elizabeth, as they attend London's Bartholomew Fair in 1598. He says it's pretty disappointing because while the author is an excellent writer, historical fiction is not her forte.

My daughter, M., age 7, is  getting back into the Ramona series. She was very early to learn to read and read several of the books when she was 5, and we cut her off for a while and said she needed to be a bit older to appreciate the others. She now has the green light to finish the series. She has been holing up in my walk-in bedroom closet to read, and so far this month she has finished Ramona and her Father and Ramona and her Mother

My daughter, C., age 5, has been reading Twig by Elizabeth Orton Jones. At first she had trouble getting into it, and then suddenly she had only a few chapters left. Her plan is to read Henry Huggins next. 

My daughter, E., age 3, is really into the Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo. She loves that Mercy likes to eat toast "with a great deal of butter on it" and she enjoys looking at the illustrations to retell the story after it is read aloud to her. Her current favorite title from the series is the final book, Something Wonky This Way Comes

My twins, daughter A. and son R., age 9 months, have been listening to nursery rhymes in the board books by Claire Beaton that they received for Christmas. I also recite nursery rhymes to them, and R. has taken a particular liking to "Doctor Foster went to Gloucester."

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Reading Through History: Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt (2021)

Meryl Lee Kowalski is devastated when, between seventh and eighth grades, her close friend, a beloved character from The Wednesday Wars (2007), is killed in a tragic accident. Unable to stand the thought of returning to Camillo Junior High School, she enrolls in a girls' boarding school where Mrs. MacKnockater is the headmistress. Mrs. MacKnockater is sympathetic to the boarding school students and also to a young man named Matt who is on the run from danger but has sought refuge at Mrs. MacKnockater's house. As Meryl Lee and Matt both face their individual fears and forms of pain, they also turn toward each other in friendship and perhaps a bit more.

I have to admit that, after Schmidt killed one of my favorite middle grade characters of all time in the first chapter of this book, I was almost not going to read the rest of the story. As a one-time creative writing student, I admire his willingness to take a risk, but as a reader who counts The Wednesday Wars in her top 10 children's books of the last 20 years, I felt like this was a cruel way to open the book, and though the rest of the story turns out to be wonderful, I still think the character in question died in vain. Schmidt could have had Meryl Lee mourn almost any loss; I would love to hear the author's thinking behind his decision.

All that aside, however, because Schmidt is an author whose books I consistently love, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. The book was so engrossing that I wound up reading it all in one night, staying up until after 2 a.m. to finish, and I couldn't bring myself to give it fewer than five stars. The writing in this book is amazingly vivid. It's not flowery, but the descriptions are almost deceptively evocative. Without realizing it was happening, I built up images in my mind of Meryl Lee's school, her dormitory, Mrs. MacKnockater's house, and all the people and places Matt remembers from his previous life. Schmidt also does a nice job of balancing tension and hope. There are lots of very difficult moments for each of the characters, but there is never sense that they are insurmountable. Gary Schmidt really effectively infuses this story with heart, and it becomes impossible not to love the characters. Were he to kill one of these characters, I would be just as devastated as I was over the death that occurs in Chapter One of this book.

My recommendation to Schmidt fans is to stick with the book. It's definitely reasonable to be angry over a death that may seem gratuitous, but it would be a shame to miss the rest of this wonderful story because of that. If you've never read The Wednesday Wars, my suggestion would be to read that first, and then read Okay for Now (2011), and only then pick up Just Like That. Reading this book immediately after The Wednesday Wars would be kind of emotionally torturous, I think, as would reading Just Like That first. But do read them all. Schmidt is a brilliant writer even if I don't think his big writing risk has quite paid off. 

Thanks to Clarion Books and Edelweiss+ for the digital review copy.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Read-at-Home Kids Report: Christmas Book Haul Edition

In 2020, I didn't do a great job of keeping up with reviewing the picture books I received from publishers. I think there were a few reasons for that, one of which was that I stopped posting regularly about my kids' reading outside of books the older two read for school. So this year I'm bringing back this feature. It won't cover every single title we read, but it will hit the highlights of the new and classic titles everyone is enjoying.

Jack and Jill (9 months)

We have never had a baby this old at Christmastime, since the three older girls are all fall babies, so it was really fun watching the twins enjoy the excitement of Christmas morning. They received mostly books as gifts, since they are likely our last babies and we didn't want to buy a lot of baby toys that would end up being donated within a year. 

In their stockings were Indestructible books (Busy City, My Neighborhood, and All Year Round) and Melissa and Doug Fun Faces Mask books (Goodnight Faces, Farm Faces, and Zoo Faces.) They love the Indestructible books, but so far they have mostly just stared at me when I put the mask books up to my face.

Under the tree from me were You're My Little Baby by Eric Carle, Up Cat Down Cat by Steve Light, the Johnny Appleseed Babylit book, and Freight Train by Donald Crews. They happily listened to me read each of these. Jill seemed most fascinated by the mirror at the end of the Carle book, while Jack loves the colors of Freight Train.

From my sister they received a set of cloth books with animal tails on the sides of the pages and crinkly pages, and one board book with ocean animal tails. They probably play with these the most of any toys they have. They both love the crinkling sound.   

From my mom they received three board books of rhymes illustrated by Clare Beaton and Two Little Trains by Margaret Wise Brown, with illustrations by the Dillons.  

Little Jumping Joan (3 years, 2 months)

From me, Jumping Joan received Some Dinosaurs Are Small and Curious About Mammals. The dinosaur book was not a hit and may end up leaving our home library for the donation box, but she seemed to like Curious About Mammals as much as she liked the book that preceded it, Curious About Birds

From my mom, she received This Old Man by Carol Jones, which I first saw in an Instagram post and which reminded me of Peek-a-Boo by the Ahlbergs because it has cut-out holes to peek through. She loves that song and has been singing the book to the babies. My mom also sent We All Go Traveling By, which Jumping Joan knows from watching the video adaptation on YouTube. It was one of her favorite gifts of the year. 

Little Bo Peep (5 years, 3 months)

Bo Peep received books 3 and 4 in the Tales from Deckawoo Drive series from my mom, and the 5th one from me. She has already read the third book and has moved on to the fourth. Her other books were all from my mom: You Can Do It, Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells, Caroline at the King's Ball and Caroline and the King's Hunt by Jean Le Paillot, and Penny and her Sled by Kevin Henkes. She read Penny and her Sled and has been reading the others aloud to family members on Skype calls.

Little Miss Muffet (7 years, 1 month)

Miss Muffet received the first three books in the Poppy series by Avi from my mom and a couple of Alain Gree activity books from me. She was much more interested in other things she got for Christmas, but she did start one of them and said she "kind of" liked it. 

For the Family

I wrapped up my review copies of The Language of the Universe by Colin Stuart and One of a Kind by Neil Packer to add to our nonfiction shelves. These have been a hard sell so far, but I'm sure their time will come.